There I was, in a city that I had never visited before, at a conference that I’d only ever attended as a delegate getting ready to stand up in front of an audience of 100 or so people I’ve never met before to deliver the final keynote speech of a conference. The time slot where most people have turned their brains off for the afternoon. To add to that I was having a full circle moment when I realised it was only a few years ago that I was attending this conference as a delegate for the first time.
Unlike the majority of the world I feel more comfortable up on stage speaking to hundreds of people then attempting to strike up conversation with just one person. Preparing for an hour long keynote involves identifying my subject, summarising my key points, working out what stories I want to tell and the journey the audience are going to go on and then finally putting together my slide deck that complements my story telling style of presenting.
As I was the last speaker of the day I had spent the whole day running over the session in my head, I even skipped out on the employee relations talk to run over it outside, all of this to make sure that I met my own lofty standards of being the best presentation at the conference.
Then something happened that threw all my planning and preparation out the window. The speaker before me got up and said to the crowd how she was extremely nervous and doesn’t present like this often and you could hear how nervous she was as she stuttered out how nervous she was.
Her hour long talk was about mental illness in the workplace and how organisations and in particular HR departments can support employees who go through tough times. Readers of this blog would have read about the work I’ve done in the mens mental health space and how I am an advocate for breaking down the stereotypes and stigma around having mental health conversations. The audience was silent throughout the whole talk, surprised at the stats associated with mental health in Australia.
One half of me was proud that this topic was being discussed in front of HR Managers as it’s a topic that doesn’t get discussed enough. The other half of me was saying there is no way that I can follow my script of getting up in front of an audience and going straight into keynote mode with 5 minutes of self-depreciating humour & laughter in order to get the audience on side and trusting a 24 year old.
So after 6 hours of nervously waiting for my time to talk, I get nervous before every talk I give even if I’ve given it 20 times before, and running through my head the opening 10 minutes of my talk I threw all of that out the window.
I quickly ran up the back of the conference hall and asked the AV manager to queue up a video that wasn’t apart of my presentation and I’d let him know when to play it.
Then I stood up in front of the audience and commended the previous speaker for talking when all she wanted to do was be in the audience and then to talk so bravely about a subject that doesn’t get brought up enough. I asked the audience to commend her for her strength. Then to add a real element to her talk I put my hand on my heart and spoke about how in my short working life that I’ve called up EAP programs to ask for help, I’ve seen my GP to discuss my own health and how nobody should be ashamed for reaching out and asking for help.
I then showed the audience the ‘better if you’re around video’ that I helped put together with the amazing team at Spur Projects and asked the audience one thing, that if they take nothing away from my actual presentation that they share this video with a brother, uncle, father or colleague in their life.
I then came up and managed to give one of the most enjoyable and natural talks I’ve given to date and felt so in command and in control of everything up on stage.
Speaking in front of a large audience is a privilege and one that I never take for granted. To be allowed to inform and inspire a large audience is one thing, but to be able to get up there and help tell somebody else’s story is even more powerful.